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A DATE YOU CAN'T REFUSE
By Harley Jane Kozak
Broadway Books, 2009 ($11.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Greeting card artist Wolley Shelley could really use a cash infusion to keep her mentally ill brother P.B. in the halfway house, but there are some things she just won't do. While serving on a jury, she's curious, and a little disturbed, to notice that the defendant, Yuri Milos, seems way too interested in her. Milos, the wealthy owner of Medias Rex Enterprises, wins the case, and before Wolley can even leave the courthouse he seeks her out and offers her a job. How weird is that?
It gets weirder. He introduces her to some of the people who were on his side in the proceedings: Donatella, his second wife, and Kimberly, his third, and current, and young, wife. He demonstrates that he knows a great deal about her life, including her brother's precarious situation, and tells her he needs her special talents for his company. Those talents include being a "serial dater" on a reality show. His company trains foreign celebrities in the customs of America so they'll know how to act around the media. Heaven forbid some Russian celebrity should commit a faux pas on Oprah.
She turns him down, despite the very generous fee he quotes her, but she gets another offer she really can't refuse. FBI agent Graham Bennett tells her the agency is investigating Yuri, and they want her to accept the job. Using thinly disguised blackmail, Bennett tells Wolley that he can guarantee P.B.'s continued residence at Haven Lane. He also hints that he knows about the secret relationship she has with another FBI agent, Simon Alexander. The two met when she was a "cooperating witness" in another case. The agency frowns on this kind of thing, but Bennett promises to keep mum if Wolley will work for Yuri and report on his activities. He says there is "very little risk" of danger, but she's heard that before. Still, a gal's gotta do what a gal's gotta do.
She settles in to her digs in the family compound, which is part Big Love, part Heffner, and all strange, but when she gets a makeover from the ladies of the house, complete with designer wardrobe, she thinks she could get used to this. When they tell her the designer duds were pre-owned by the last person who had the job, a person now deceased, she rethinks her position.
On her first day on the job, everything that can go wrong does, making her wonder if the money is worth it -- if she survives to claim it. Her "clients" are a mammoth boxer who looks more like a hit man, a bitter, sarcastic Belarusian country and western singer educated at Oxford, a young female triathlete, a formerly obese man who has a best-seller, Jesus Made Me Skinny, and a lady whose husband holds an important government job, who wants to improve her English and lose weight.
Wollie discovers her various reality shows are a big hit in eastern bloc countries, and she gets along well with most of her pupils, but they tend not to follow the script she's written for them. It doesn't take a genius to figure out something's hinky around the Milos hacienda, though, and Bennett's claim that there will be very little risk turns out to be a big fat lie. She's drawn to Yuri, even though she fears he's a bad guy. His behavior makes her question her belief system. The reader is kept guessing, along with Wollie, about who can and can't be trusted. That list includes Simon: who is he, really, and is there any future with a man who disappears without a word for weeks at a time.
Kozak, a former actress, writes entertaining and engaging mysteries, and this is the best one yet. Her characters are -- well, characters, without being over the top. Her plots are inventive, and her stories are just plain fun.
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